21 Midfielder Ajax Netherlands
2014 has been...
Transformative. Davy Klaassen of Ajax is a young man who’s really beginning to fulfil his potential, surprising more than a few observers along the way since the beginning of the 2014/15 season. He was making strides before the summer break, winning his first international cap, and since August he’s been in a rich vein of form for the Amsterdam club.
Klaassen is settling seamlessly into a role created by the departure of former skipper Siem de Jong to the Premier League, having been a viable competitor for the experienced midfielder’s spot even if he had stayed in the Netherlands. In De Jong’s absence Klaassen has become the key man in Frank de Boer’s Ajax midfield and has taken to the task well.
It’s an opportunity that’s proved to be a boon for his development as a player. Previously more of an attacking midfielder, Klaassen has come on in leaps and bounds in acclimatising to a deeper role. He can still often be found behind a front man when Ajax have the ball. Out of possession he generally drops back far deeper, though the fluidity of his game means he will press very high at times too.
His occasional drift towards his old attacking midfield berth might not be part of De Boer’s plan for him but it’s not too much of a problem. Klaassen in 2014 is emerging as much more a box-to-box man than anything else and he has so far shown that he’s really rather good at it.
Crucially, Klaassen’s all-round game is improving by the week. He’s added some creativity to his game, coupled with excellent vision and a clever first-time pass; it doesn’t always come off but he doesn’t let it knock him back. Klaassen doesn’t often try to beat a man, preferring to use his passing, great first touch and excellent footwork. He has a good shift of pace, and is proficient with both feet at all of the above.
There are a number of players in this list who can play in the middle of the park to a high standard but Klaassen’s a little different in that he already hits hard higher up the field. He’s spent the first part of this season at the top of the Eredivisie assist charts, and some of the killer passes from deep that have contributed to that were absolutely stunning, beautifully weighted works of art.
They say that Ajax is the club of Amsterdam artists, Feyenoord the club of the workers of Rotterdam. Hilversum-born Klaassen straddles both, pairing his dexterity on the ball with a willingness to work his knackers off. For all the quality, he’s also a tenacious player who doesn’t know when he’s beaten. Such leadership traits extend beyond the pitch and his comments in the media indicate a maturity and an ability to set expectations by example that players of his modest years usually find later in their careers.
Like any good midfielder with an attacking bent, Klaassen also scores a few goals. At the time of writing he’s scored in his last two matches, firstly with a headed finish in Ajax’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain. In the league he’s scored three goals in 14 starts in 2014/15 compared to ten in 23 last time out. It’s been an emphatic return to form for a player who missed almost the entirety of 2012/13 with a groin injury.
There are one or two quirks in Klaassen’s game that could be ironed out and probably will be soon given the current trajectory of his improvement. He could show for the ball a little more, a habit that should come with more experience further back than the number on the back of his jersey suggests for him.
There’s no doubt that Klaassen’s come on a long way this year. He joined Ajax’s youth ranks a decade ago and broke into the first team in 2011, missing out for a long stretch because of the aforementioned injury. He is a title winner, of course, and has numerous individual young player awards to his name. It’s a big reputation to live up to and there were one or two creeping doubts a year ago. He’s really stepped up since.
Klaassen signed a contract extension this summer that theoretically keeps him at the Arena until 2018. Assuming for a moment that his contract will be enough to ward off reported interest this autumn from Louis van Gaal – the coach who first capped him for the Netherlands – and Manchester United, 2015 will be all about personal progress for Klaassen.
Ideally Ajax would start to make more of an impact in the Champions League in addition to competing at the very top at home year in and year out. Klaassen has a role to play in that and big game experience will go a long way to improving him both as an individual player and as a major contributor for his club.
Klaassen has represented the Netherlands at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-21 levels, making his first appearance for the latter as recently as 2013. He made his senior debut under Van Gaal in a friendly against France in March and is usually a feature of the post-World Cup squad of Guus Hiddink. However, he’s yet to add to those 18 minutes in Paris. More national team minutes must be high on his agenda for next year.
"When Klaassen broke through, he looked a scoring number ten without creative ability. But the young midfielder has evolved his game, becoming one of the main creative outlets of his team from a central role. Cruijff compared his abilities to Xavi and Kroos. Can he get somewhere near to adding value to Johan’s words?" - Michiel Jongsma
"Davy Klaassen scored with 30.3% of his shots (excl. blocked) last Eredivisie season, the highest % of all players (25+ shots)." - OptaJoe
C+ Thriving under new expectations
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